Thursday, September 20, 2012

Without Dad, Sons Drift

"When Dad is absent, boys begin to sink into themselves. They begin to drift.... Only fathers can halt the drift of sons.... [A father] possesses an authority that is both in explicable and awesome. For some reason, few things are more important to a boy--or a man--than a touch, or a smile, or a word of encouragement from Dad." ~ Robert Lewis, Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood

Let me tell the you the story of Ty Cobb. Cobb was arguably one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. He was the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and in my opinion he stands just behind Hank Aaron and Honus Wagner. When he played, he played with his whole being. One sports writer of the time wrote that he believed Cobb would continue to play ball even if he were charged for the privilege. Yet, he was also the most despicable, the dirtiest, and most hated player of all time. In fact, he may be the most hated player in sports history. Cobb said that to him baseball was like a war and he would do whatever it took to win... whatever it took. The picture above is a good illustration of what he would do to catchers to ensure that they would drop the ball. He kept his spikes sharpened and would slide into a base with them high in an attempt to spike the opposing players in their shins or knees. On a steal or a possible double play ball, Cobb would throw his whole body at a second baseman or shortstop when sliding into second. Many men were carried off the field on stretchers because of Cobb's base-running assaults. In batting, if he could not get a hit off a pitcher, he would lean into pitches to get hit by the pitch. Of course, that is just what he would do to opposing teams. Even his own teammates hated him because he would pick fights with them if they did not play the game the way he thought they should play (i.e. dirty). In fact, he would fight anyone for anything--umpires, teammates, and even fans. He once tried to kill a grounds-keeper because the keeper was a black man who dared to say "Hello" to Cobb, and then when Cobb's teammates pulled him away from choking the poor man, Cobb turned on them. Cobb stabbed a security guard because he simply asked him to identify himself when entering an opposing team's park. He even ran into the stands on a several occasions to beat up fans that heckled him. Cobb once said in an interview, "Sure I fought. I had to fight all my life to survive. They were all against me; tried every dirty trick to cut me down, but I beat the bastards and left them in the ditch." No one could touch him, however, because Ban Johnson (the AL president at the time) would not let them. He knew Cobb was dirty and a cheater, but Cobb was also one of the best players in the game and his controversial tactics sold tickets. (Johnson did suspend him once for beating a crippled fan nearly to death but lifted it very quickly because of the monetary losses.)

Why was Cobb so angry at the world and so determined to win at any cost? To answer that, we have to go back to his childhood. Cobb was born on a Georgia farm. His father, William H. Cobb, was a hard task master and was determined that his son would "make good" in medicine, law, or the military. His father was demanding, distant, and "the only man whoever made me do his bidding," according to Ty. Nothing he could do would ever satisfy his father, however, and it drove the angry young boy to succeed at any cost. When he left home at age 17 to play baseball in the minors, his father's parting words were, "Don't come home a failure." Cobb said, "That admonition put more determination in me than he ever knew. My overwhelming need was to prove myself as a man." But, he did not succeed right away and no one noticed him, so he cheated, forging scout letters about his "unusual amount of talent" in order to get offers. His forgeries worked, but just three weeks before he made his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers, his father was accidentally shot by his mother. She saw him sneaking in the window, thought he was a prowler, and shot him twice with a shotgun. Cobb's father died before Cobb could prove himself and that demon chased him throughout the rest of his life. When Cobb was being interviewed as an old man he said, "I didn't get over that. I have never gotten over it." Deep in his heart he was still an angry child who desperately needed his father's approval, so he was driven to succeed no matter the cost. He made everyone an enemy and fought to prove himself to a ghost for the rest of his life.

The story of Ty Cobb is a great illustration of the quote above by Robert Lewis. Cobb's father was distant, and he withheld his love and approval from his son. Most importantly, Cobb never learned from his father what it meant to be a man, nor did his father ever bestow manhood on him. So, Cobb drifted and made an enemy of the world. He learned implicitly that he had to be the best in order to be a man, and it did not matter to him how he ended up on top as long as he was there. But, enough was never enough. It was all vanity, chasing after the wind. Perhaps if Cobb's father had lived, the approval and affirmation of manhood that Cobb needed would have eventually been given. But, since Cobb's father died early on, he never got the approval or affirmation he so desperately needed. He fought the rest of his life for it, but no one could give it to him except his father.

As R. Lewis notes above, fathers have an inexplicable power over sons. Very few things are more important to a man than the approval and affirmation of his father. The football and baseball star Bo Jackson once said in a Sports Illustrated interview:
My father has never seen me play professional baseball or football.... I tried to have a relationship with him, gave him my number, said, "Dad, call me. I’ll fly you in." Can you imagine? I'm Bo Jackson, one of the so-called premier athletes in the country, and I'm sitting in the locker room and envying every one of my teammates whose dad would come in and talk with them after the game. I never experienced that.
Young boys need approval, to be taught what it means to be a man, and the affirmation of that manhood from their fathers, and without it they drift. They go looking for answers, approval, and affirmation from somewhere else. When they don't get it from him, they will go looking for it wherever they can see a glimmer of hope--women, men, sports, gangs, success, etc. But, none of those things can give them what they need and so the search will never end. They can never have enough sex, enough trophies, enough fights, or enough success to prove their manhood and win the approval of an absent father. They will be seeking to prove themselves to a ghost for the rest of their lives. I am not saying that every one will end up as angry and driven as Ty Cobb but I agree with R. Lewis--when fathers are absent (physically or emotionally), sons drift. They do not know what it means to be a man and they are left to wander the world, answering any call that promises answers, approval, and affirmation. (Go here for a whole host of staggering statistics about the adverse affects of fatherless sons.)

For those of you who know me, you know this is an important issue to me. However, now it has become much more personal. My wife is pregnant with our first child and it is a boy. I look around and see drifting men whose fathers were absent (about one third of American households are without a father and that is just physical absence, not to mention emotional), and I tell myself, "I will be there for my son." Yet, just being there is not enough. How will I teach him what it means to be a man and call him into manhood so I can affirm it for him? That is a huge question because if he does not get the answers from me, he will drift. I need to have the answers to (at least) the following questions: What is a man? What are his responsibilities? What does a man believe? How does a man behave? What should a man try to achieve? How does he withstand cultural pressure to the contrary? He will need from me a vision for manhood, a code of conduct, and a cause for which to live. Without it, he will drift.

Can you answer those questions for your son(s)? If not, I challenge you to find the asnwers because as the men go, so goes the society. Sociologist Margaret Mead wrote in her study of sexes and societies, "The central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for the men." (p. 168) And, it starts with fathers.

A great resource I have discovered is a ministry called "Men's Fraternity." I know it sounds a little lame but they have excellent resources for a biblical view of manhood, raising sons, raising daughters, integrating family and work, and so much more. A good book to read is the one mentioned above, from which I quoted: Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood. I have not finished it yet (and when I do I will write a review of it), but I am impressed with it so far and I do not mind already recommending it. Another resource I discovered recently is a thesis paper by a RTS MA student. It is worth reading as well. If those are not enough, search for more. It is not easy because there is a lot of junk out there to sift through, but your son is depending on you.

By His Grace,


Big Jen said...

I had no idea you guys were expecting. Congratulations! I'm gonna suggest this book to Big A.

A. Taylor Rollo... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deanna Cauthen said...

This is an excellent read and I will share this with others.

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Thanks, Deanna. Please do spread it around. As you can probably tell, I think this is an incredibly important issue.

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Big Jen, I removed my own comment because I said more than just Big A. :) Anyway... yes, I have been meaning to call Big A. I will try giving him a call today to catch up.

swallace said...

If it is true then, that fatherless homes can become the breeding grounds for violent children, what else can we expect in a world at large that has been told it has no Father? We have evicted God from the cosmic scene. We have orphaned ourselves and made ourselves destitute. There is no one to meet this need so deeply embedded within the human heart. Ravi Zacharias